JUNE 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

Living through this lengthy, socially restrictive lock down brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic would be most unpleasant if it were not for the birds that visit our garden. They provide a pleasant rhythm to each day: Red-eyed Doves call out ‘better get started’ on these dark, cold mornings; the Hadeda Ibises provide a shrill wake-up call about half an hour before sunrise; and the Speckled Pigeons scuffle around in the ceiling, ready to chase any other birds off Morrigan’s feeder – in this case a Cape Weaver – as soon as the seed is put out.

Laughing Doves hug the tree tops to warm up in the morning sun.

Red-winged Starlings swoop over the suburb in ever larger flocks, while Black-eyed Bulbuls keep their sharp eyes open for the fruit on offer.

Olive Thrushes emerge from the shrubbery at the first sign of something tasty to eat – usually fruit, but this one took a fancy to peanut butter on toast!

Cape White-eyes queue at the nectar feeder.

They are occasionally chased off by the much larger Black-headed Oriole.

A Bar-throated Apalis regularly makes its shrill calls during the day as it pokes about looking for insects in the foliage; Greater Double-collared Sunbirds chase each other across the garden in between drinking their fill from the nectar feeder or visiting the aloes; and the Common Fiscal swoops down to see what food is available during quieter moments of the day. Another bird that prefers to inspect the offerings ‘in private’ is the Cape Robin-chat.

My June bird list is:

Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Black Tit
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

MAY 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

How quickly this month has flown by, possibly because much of it has been spent in anticipation of more freedom of movement and the easing into the Level 3 restrictions which begin on 1st June – the sheer joy of being able to exercise beyond nine in the morning is something worth looking forward to! In the bird world, life continues as usual: after a month away, the African Green Pigeons have returned to the Natal Fig in our garden – this is the large dark green tree in the photograph below, taken from the grassy area below our garden.

The Speckled Pigeons have been breeding prolifically and there have been several young Black-eyed Bulbuls around. This one is sunning itself after a dip in the bird bath:

Having been shown the ropes last month, this speckled young Olive Thrush now has to fend for itself:

While most of the Village Weavers are starting to look motley as they begin to don their winter garb, this Cape Weaver still looks very smart:

The Lesser-striped Swallows finally left during the first week of May.

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Yellow-fronted Canary

APRIL 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

This is the first time I have ever been confined to my garden for a whole month. I have found the act of sitting outside to watch the avian visitors come and go has been tinged with a sense of loss – not only our loss of the freedom to explore other places, but the loss so many people all over the world are experiencing in terms of family, lifestyles, earning power and the ability to travel. We all feel it in one way or another. Bird watching is a contemplative activity and so, perhaps without even meaning to, I have curtailed the time spent doing so. Then again, perhaps I think too much about our current situation and should simply live each day as it comes … this pandemic has to draw to a close sometime!

Meanwhile, Laughing Doves continue to gather along the telephone wire or perch in the tree tops in expectation of the arrival of seed. This one has come down to a low branch to investigate the fine bird seed dropped from the feeder.

In keeping with looking back on happier times, I have decided to compare this month’s garden bird list with that of a year ago. There clearly isn’t enough fruit around to attract the African Green Pigeons, although with minute figs forming on the Natal Fig they are bound to return next month. Year-round visitors are the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds and here a female is visiting the nectar feeder.

Her mate is visiting a Cape Honeysuckle for his share of naturally produced nectar.

Having sat in a different part of the garden for a change, I was able to spend several minutes watching a Black-backed Puffback working its way through the top of the trees – far too high for me to even attempt a photograph of it between gaps in the thick foliage. It was in this same wooded place that I have had the privilege of meeting a Cape Batis a few times. Cape Crows seem to be on the increase here: several fly across almost daily and sometimes perch in one of the tall trees – they weren’t around last April. Nor were Cape Weavers, the Common Fiscal, the Emerald Spotted Wood Dove or Green Woodhoopoes. The latter have cackled all around the garden during the course of this month.

Olive Thrushes are quick to investigate any interesting looking food sources. This one took a bite out of an apple before I had hardly turned my back.

The Lesser-striped Swallows had already left by this time last year, yet the pair this year are still regularly visiting their nest under the eaves, leaving me wondering if they have a last brood to feed before they set off. The Pin-tailed Whydah has been a sporadic visitor so far this year and was even prepared to rustle between some pruned branches the other day to get at seed dropped from the bird feeder. A Red-fronted Tinker bird and Sombre Bulbuls have been heard more than seen, while a Southern Red Bishop made a rare visit to the feeders last week – a quick in-out foray. A pair of Yellow-fronted Canaries and Spectacled Weavers make up the birds seen this year that are not on last April’s list. I am pleased to say that I recorded nine more birds in my garden than I did in April last year.

This Black-eyed Bulbul was also quick off the mark to sample the freshly cut apple.

My April bird list is:

African Darter
African Paradise Flycatcher
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-backed Puffback
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Emerald Spotted Wood Dove
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Red Bishop
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

MARCH 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

March has proved to be a topsy-turvy month during which I spent a week away from home and had hardly got my breath back when the COVID-19 virus blasted its way into our lives. I first heard of its appearance in South Africa while I was attending a conference, and saw a few passengers wearing masks on my return flight to Port Elizabeth: everything was so new, so untested, so unexpected as the vapours of unsettlement wafted through the country sowing disbelief, panic, defiance and spawned jokes, fake news and largely unhelpful advice. Then came the official lockdown scheduled for three weeks – stay in your homes with no outside exercise permitted; not even to walk your dog! Now is the time that I really appreciate having our garden and the avian visitors whose presence brightens my day.

The Common Fiscal has made far fewer visits to the feeding area this month – perhaps there is no longer a driving need to feed its young. It arrives silently and perches on a branch above the offerings for some time before taking a quick bite and flying off. The Speckled Pigeons live in our roof and so are ubiquitous – there will come a time when their marching orders will have to be given! Although the Streaky-headed Seedeaters remain regular visitors, they too do not come to the feeders as frequently as before. There are plenty of grass seeds around at this time of the year and so I imagine they are finding the bulk of their food elsewhere. It is a happy thought that the rain we received earlier in the year was enough to provide some autumnal sustenance at least.

It is pleasing to see the Fork-tailed Drongos back after a short absence and I was delighted when an African Hoopoe paid us a brief visit. The Emerald-spotted Wood Dove makes it to my list for the first time – ever. Its mournful cry has been around for the past week.

Photography has not been a priority this month – too many other necessary distractions that meant time spent outside was with a cup of tea and a notebook in hand instead of a camera. I will cheat by showing you some photographs from my archive.

Black-headed Orioles can be heard calling to each other from the tree tops almost daily and are often seen drinking from the nectar feeder. Here is one making a meal of cut apples.

The garden has greened up a lot during this month, making it more difficult to easily spot the shyer visitors, such as the Cape Robin, also photographed eating apples.

As Laughing Doves are often the first to alert me that the feeders are empty – they perch on the telephone cable or queue up on a bare branch – I think it is fit to show you one. Their calls are a comforting burble throughout the day.

My March bird list:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-hawk
African Hoopoe
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Thick-billed Weaver
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

FEBRUARY 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

We have been blessed with more rain this month, which has not only greened up the garden but seems to have speeded up the blossoming of flowers and the development of grass seeds. Plenty of natural food is available and there has been a fair amount of surface water, so the birds have not been as dependent on the nectar, seeds, fruit and water that I regularly provide for them.

They have probably been about all summer, but I have only recently begun noticing the Barn Swallows as they start gathering on overhead cables in the late afternoons, doubtless readying themselves for the journey north once autumn sets in. The morning and evening skies are filled with swifts and swallows dipping, fluttering, swooping and almost bumping into each other – joined in the early evenings by tiny insectivorous bats. The mud nest of the Lesser-striped Swallows has been a hive of activity – they have definitely been successful at breeding at last. Here is one of the adults peeping out of the opening:

The adults move in and out of the nest so swiftly that I have had to sit on the back steps very patiently to capture them in motion. This one is just leaving the nest:

I was fortunate to have my camera in hand when this Cape Batis came into view next to our driveway:

The Greater Double-collared Sunbirds have been particularly vociferous this month, twittering loudly from high branches or cables. The Amethyst Sunbirds have also been flying to and fro across the garden – neither have made much use of the nectar feeder, that having mainly been visited by the Cape White-eyes and Black-eyed Bulbuls. I am delighted to report that the pair of Red-necked Spurfowl is becoming more daring and have been seen walking right across our front lawn. I have been enticing them to the garden by sprinkling maize seed in the bottom garden.

Southern Masked Weavers have continued to be the dominant weaver in the garden this month:

My February bird list:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Barn Swallow
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Tit
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Thick-billed Weaver
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary